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Pounds, Euros and Dollars

Mark Devenport | 17:35 UK time, Thursday, 5 March 2009

The First and Deputy First Ministers are off to the United States this weekend for a coast to coast trip which, they say, will primarily focus on the economy. They are visiting firms which already employ people here, although they are hopeful about attracting new jobs it's fair to say that their intent is as much to defend the investment we already have as to seek anything fresh.

Given the global downturn, the ministers appeared concerned about the future at a briefing inside Stormont Castle earlier today. Irish ministers have promised to stick to their committments on road projects like the Aughnacloy to Donegal link. However the First and Deputy First worry about whether Dublin might have to reconsider this in the context of any further drastic action it might take.

On another front there's the continuing battle with London over the UK government's push for greater "efficiencies". Nigel Dodds is due to meet his counterparts in Edinburgh on March 12th. The Stormont line is that London must abide by promises made at the time devolution was restored that Northern Ireland could keep any savings it makes. But whilst they make this argument, our ministers remain concerned in case the Treasury presses ahead with a plan which they reckon could mean cuts of between £150 and £200 million in the year 2010/2011. We probably won't know how this argument is resolved until the budget is announced on April 22nd.

On one front the minister think we have done fairly well, as the Ulster Bank has been allocated £250 million to provide for fresh lending. But they are unsure how much of this is fidning its way to those in need of credit. No doubt this will be a question on the agenda when a new advisory forum meets the Ministers for the first time next month. The 25 strong Economic Forum will include representatives from the local banks, businesses, the trade unions, the Consumer Council and other groups. It sounds like the First and Deputy First have already made up their minds about who they want to replace the Civic Forum.


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